Grades 10 -12, College, Adults
Directed by Peter Nicks
Produced by Linda Davis, Peter Nicks, William B. Hirsch
DVD Purchase $295, Rent $95
US Release Date: 2013
Copyright Date: 2012
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-249-7
Awards and Festivals
Shortlist Best Documentary, Academy Awards®
Best Documentaries of the Year Selection, Video Librarian
Best Documentary, San Francisco Film Critics Circle
Audience Award, Golden Gate Award & Best Bay Area Documentary, San Francisco International Film Festival
Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Special Jury Mention, AFI/Discovery Channel, Silverdocs
Truer Than Fiction Award & Nominee for Best Documentary, Independent Spirit Awards
Best Documentary Nominee, Gotham Independent Film Awards
Special Jury Mention, Ashland Independent Film Festival
Best Debut Feature Nominee, Cinema Eye Honors
Best Documentary, Camden International Film Festival
Best Bay Area Documentary, SF Weekly
HotDocs, Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
True/False Film Fest
Science Books & Films Best of 2013
The Waiting Room|
A day in the life of a public hospital's ER waiting room captures what it means for millions of Americans to live without health insurance.
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 82-minutes and 62-minutes.
The Waiting Room is a character-driven documentary film that uses extraordinary access to go behind the doors of an American public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients. The film - using a blend of cinema verité and characters' voiceover - offers a raw, intimate, and even uplifting look at how patients, staff and caregivers each cope with disease, bureaucracy and hard choices.
The ER waiting room serves as the grounding point for the film, capturing in vivid detail what it means for millions of Americans to live without health insurance. We witness the minute-by-minute Sisyphean struggle that plagues public hospitals, where emergency rooms have to field the overwhelming health care needs of the inner city. Young victims of gun violence take their turn alongside artists and small business owners who lack insurance. The film weaves the stories of several patients - as well as the hospital staff charged with caring for them - as they cope with the complexity of the nation's public health care system, while weathering the storm of a national recession.
The Waiting Room lays bare the struggle and determination of both a community and an institution coping with limited resources and no road map for navigating a health care landscape marked by historic economic and political dysfunction. It is a film about one hospital, its multifaceted community, and how our common vulnerability to illness binds us together as humans.
"An excellent, riveting documentary, revealing the raw compassion of health care providers trying their best to deliver care in a broken safety-net system. The Waiting Room offers a glimpse into the struggles of patients who are terrified about not only the crisis that brought them into the emergency department, but how they are going to pay for the care once they leave."
Dr. Karoline Mortensen, Assistant Professor of Health Services Administration, University of Maryland
"Public hospital emergency departments are the `safety net' of a fragmented and dysfunctional U.S. health care system. The Waiting Room depicts the experiences of people with severe and chronic illnesses who have no other options for care, and of the health care providers who are overwhelmed by the volume and acuity of patients seeking help. This film may inform health policy debates by illustrating the human aspects of seeking safety-net care."
Dr. Benjamin Sun, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University
"The Waiting Room shows the human side of the failings of the US health care system, and the heroic efforts of health professionals trying to patch together solutions to human sufferings attributed to a dysfunctional health care system. This is a compelling case for health reform."
Dr. Michael R. Cousineau, Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine, Director of the Center for Community Health Studies, University of Southern California
"The Waiting Room compellingly weaves together stories of caregivers and clients to tell a larger story of healthcare crisis. Useful for students, medical staff, caregivers, and policymakers, it is also a well-told tale and one of the most accomplished examples of cinema verite filmmaking in recent history."
Patricia Aufderheide, Center for Social Media, American University
"Powerfully real. A striking reality check of what it means to have a fragmented health care. The Waiting Room provides a glimpse into a world where it is hard to be a good health professional in a dysfunctional system, no matter how much you care."
Dr. David Rakel, Founder and Director, Integrative Medicine Program, Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin
"Should be mandatory for patients, providers (i.e., hospital administrators and insurers, as well as doctors, nurses and staff) and students. This last I say as one who has taught sociology of medicine to pre-med students, nursing students and those studying physical therapy and occupational therapy, as well as integrating 'med soc' units into introductory courses. Indeed, there seems to be an absence of discussion of emergency room and urgent care in most sociology of health and medicine books and monographs. That makes this documentary, which depicts both the overwhelmed exhaustion of compassionate medical staff and the frustration of an underserved and impoverished patient population, a particularly good choice of film to view and invites student discussion."
Demetra Pappas, Saint Francis College, Visual Studies
"The Waiting Room does not try to convince us of anything. It is literally 'a day in the life,' of a life that is constructed around class, race, gender, and institutions that are stressed to their limits. It is also a story of professionals of almost unimaginable strength and patience...One more time: The Waiting Room is neither for nor against the current American medical system, let alone 'Obamacare.' But people who think that America has the world's best medical system (if there are any) must watch the film and decide if this is any way for a great country to minister to its own citizens in need. Level/Use: Suitable for high school classes and college courses in cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, and American studies, as well as for general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database
"Unique and timely...A dynamic look at a typical day and night at a large Oakland public hospital emergency waiting room used regularly by uninsured patients of all ages and generations, races, and cultures served by overburdened male and female health professionals and assistants...This is very highly recommended for young adult and older general audience and college students."
Ellen Paterson, SUNY, Science Books and Films
"Harrowing...[An] up-close and personal glimpse of just how dysfunctional the current U.S. health care system is...Vividly unforgettable...Highly recommended."
The Midwest Book Review
"Highly Recommended...Unlike other recent documentaries that have attempted to expose or analyze particular problems in our dysfunctional US healthcare system, this film does not have a focused polemical political agenda or message. Instead it attempts to simply confront the viewer with the kinds of human suffering that a better organized and more equitable system might avoid...The film will be most suitable for college or university students or well-educated adults concerned about the future of our healthcare system."
Gary D. Byrd, University at Buffalo - SUNY, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Anyone who has ever wound up in the emergency room of an urban hospital will surely recognize the human drama on display...Highly recommended."
"Of all the memorable films on offer at Silverdocs, the most haunting by far is The Waiting Room...Engrossing...As The Waiting Room makes clear...the lines between wealth and poverty keep shifting, virtually before our eyes."
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
"Introduces you to some remarkable characters and also makes some terrifying points about the use of emergency care as a substitute for - or a consequence of the lack of - proper primary care."
Linda Holmes, National Public Radio
"Peter Nicks had extraordinary access to the people in and around the waiting room of a public hospital in Oakland. But what makes this a classic, and a work of art and not journalism, is his taste, his poetic touches, and his talent for understatement."
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
"The Waiting Room is, by virtue of the experiences it documents, an irrefutable argument for the necessity of universal health care, here and now. The movie depicts real human beings, every one of them deserving better than what they get...In a year of exceptionally strong documentaries, The Waiting Room is one of the most urgent and effective."
Amy Taubin, Artforum International Magazine
"As nail-biting as any Hollywood thriller...riveting...Shows us why our country's health care system is very much in tatters."
Tribeca Film Institute
"A rare fly-on-the-wall look inside an overwhelmed and at times overwhelming system and its impact on patients and staff."
Jeffrey Brown, PBS News Hour
"Cutting across race, culture, and class, the film inhabits a remarkably broad cross-section of American urban life...The Waiting Room doesn't simply shed light on a broken healthcare system; like the best dramas, it humbly illuminates the human condition without narration or agenda. When strings swell up for the first time in the film's final moments, it's a catharsis that's well-earned."
Ryan Little, Washington City Paper
"A rock-solid verite docu...Its clear-eyed, well-crafted observation makes it plain Americans deserve a better system than this."
Dennis Harvey, Variety
"Astounding and moving...The cinema verite realism hits home, remaining personal while hinting at broad structural deficiencies (and strengths, by the way) in the nation's health care system. This movie will stay with you."
G. Allen Johnson, SF Gate
"The Waiting Room does two wonderful things...It takes a tedious situation and fills it with human emotion and real heart...The second, and perhaps most wonderful detail of the film, is the way it leaves the audience with a measure of hope...The hope comes from the people who continue to be there for us when we need them most. People who come back day after day with a positive attitude, and work tirelessly to help us."
Ryan McNeil, The Matinee
"When you see The Waiting Room, you are made aware that rationing is already at work, whether the illness is cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, drunkenness, or kidney disease...This is documentary as distilled observation. It's also as strong an argument for universal health care that I've seen in years."
David D'Arcy, Indiewire
"The film's intimate perspective, that of people who have nowhere else to go, brings a seemingly intractable political problem to the social level, rendering it a human problem."
Elien Becque, HealthCetera blog, Center for Health Media and Policy at Hunter College
"Everyone would be able to relate to this movie. Not everyone will relate to having no healthcare coverage, but everyone can understand what it is like to feel powerless for a child's health, or fearful for one's own life. This movie reaches the core of the human experience: life and death."
Brooke Shunatona, Vox Magazine, The Missourian
"[A] well-done depiction of why our health care system is so expensive and still produces lousy outcomes."
Bob Geary, Independent Weekly